Can the Guitar Hero Video Game Teach Teens to Love Technically Important Music?
One of the holiday’s hottest gifts is Activision’s videogame Guitar Hero 3 for Playstation, Xbox 360 and Nintendo’s Wii, as well as PC and Mac versions. The game, for those of you who haven’t seen the demo, allows the player to rock out with a faux guitar-controller to your favorite classic rock jams while amassing points for your performance. While you punch away at five buttons on the pseudo-guitar, you are judged as to how accurately you hit the “notes,” strum the strings and even bend the “whammy bar.” There are various levels of play from “Easy” to “Expert,” which increases the need for accuracy as you climb the ranks of guitar gods.
The $80 game (including the guitar-controller) is a runaway hit, with crossover appeal from Boomers looking to be karaoke-fabulous to today’s teens, who base most of their entertainment on virtual worlds, such as social networking sites like Myspace and ranging to the extremes that include the virtual world of Second Life, where a user can in cyberspace do everything one might want to do in the real world. You can create an “avatar” (a persona that has the characteristics that you define on the computer) to be whomever you like, which teens today say is most exciting. It is not uncommon for artists like JayZ to have concerts that are held in Second Life that users attend using their avatars and enjoy through their computers. As frightening as it may seem to people who love the concept of hearing real musicians play in person, today’s youngest generation isn’t as interested in reality as much as they are in the virtual world and its infinite possibilities.
Guitar Hero begs an interesting question relative to the current long-standing plague of poor record sales in the music business, ever since the rise of the grunge genre of music in the early ‘90s. From the time it became popular to not value the musical performance in grunge (note: even hairspray heavy metal bands could technically play complicated music as their rock and roll predecessors did, going decades back into musical history), music sales have slumped. Pony-tailed, baby boomer record executives who still believe the 25-year-old compact disc is the way to sell music to the next generation of tech-savvy and attention-deprived kids will bark that it was Napster that caused their problems. The truth is that today’s bands for the most part cannot play with the proficiency and musical appeal of the bands that define the 1967-to-1993 classic rock era. The question is: will today’s kids learn to appreciate the technical complexities of the best music from the classic rock era because of the lessons taught on Guitar Hero? Musicians and music enthusiasts hope this is the case. The most hopeful suggest that the excellence it takes to rack up a high score on Guitar Hero might just inspire the next generation of kids to transcend the virtual world of the game, and actually pick up a real instrument and learn how to, as Guitar George (from “Sultans of Swing”) said, “Make it cry or sing.” Sales of musical instruments are peaking at over $8,000,000,000 per year, so there are numbers to back up the interest of people learning to play and becoming proficient at actual performance. However, at the mainstream level, time will tell if the next generation will find the same high-intensity buzz from a physical instrument, like a Fender Stratocaster or a set of Tama drums, as they do from their Playstation 3.
by: Jerry Del Colliano